Leading the climate revolution with renewed strength

Paul Polman explains that, despite President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, Unilever remains committed and will continue to be a leader in advocating for climate action.

There is no turning back

Signed in 2015 – just months after the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – the Paris Agreement is the world's most significant attempt to address and prevent the devastating impacts of climate change. It sets out a global roadmap based on national commitments to drive the transformation to a low-carbon economy. Businesses – including our own – as well as cities, NGOs and our consumers have all played a critical role in advocating for Paris, and are working to implement the transformation to a zero-carbon economy.

Despite the US withdrawal, it is clear that the business community recognises the inherent economic opportunity of climate action. Not taking action to avoid runaway climate change is a moral abdication of our responsibility to the most vulnerable and to future generations. There is, quite simply, no turning back.

Unilever stands by the agreement

Unilever, together with thousands of other businesses, will continue to convey to policy makers around the world that we stand by the Paris Agreement and the SDGs. And we will persevere in doing our part to mitigate climate change by reducing our own climate footprint.

Specifically, we are driving action upstream, by eliminating deforestation from our supply chain and mainstreaming climate-smart agricultural practices. Together with others in our industry, we have committed to achieving zero net deforestation associated with four commodities – palm oil, soy, paper and board, and beef – no later than 2020. Downstream, we are looking at ways to reduce the impact of consumers using our products through better design and innovation. Plus we have an industry-leading commitment to be Carbon Positive in our own operations by 2030.

Huge opportunity for innovation and jobs

Pursuing a decarbonised path is also a major opportunity for business innovation and job creation. The markets for innovative clean energy and energy efficient technologies are expected to expand rapidly. In fact, the agreement is expected to unlock $13.5 trillion in growth opportunities by 2030 as nearly 200 countries seek to accelerate their efforts to address climate change.

The US is home to many leading businesses which are well placed to capture a growing share of this global market, and already support over 3 million clean energy jobs with the potential to deliver many more. This opportunity, however, becomes harder to realise from outside the agreement.

Meanwhile, many of the jobs that some people claim are under threat – from economic transition to a low-carbon economy – remain at risk because of other unstoppable factors. Increasing mechanisation and automation in many industries – including the US coal mining industry – is the underlying driver of these shifts, not our efforts to tackle climate change.

Economic growth and a moral duty

The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate has shown that a low-carbon transition – with increased investment in renewable energy, energy efficiency, clean cities, better land use and low-carbon infrastructure – offers us our best chance of higher quality economic growth in the decades ahead. It is estimated that $90 trillion will need to be spent on sustainable infrastructure globally by 2030.

And that’s to say nothing of the moral arguments and our responsibility to protect vulnerable communities now, as well as future generations that will follow us. Any action that seeks to slow our efforts to address climate change can only hurt those most vulnerable to rising sea levels and extreme weather events, whether in New Orleans or Papua New Guinea. Even in the developed world, climate instability would leave our children and grandchildren with a level of increased resource scarcity and economic hardship that they have done nothing to deserve.

Together, we will succeed

That’s why the response from thousands of business leaders, city mayors and state governors has been so immediate and so potent. It’s why the response of the European and Chinese political leaders has been so robust. And it’s why our resolve to carry on regardless is so strengthened.

The Paris Agreement is more than a legal document. It is a shared global commitment to action, to chart a better direction for our businesses, our cities and our world. A global movement of this strength is bigger than any one nation state, any one person. And it’s why together, we will succeed in tackling climate change and building a brighter future for all.

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